Indicating a need to vaccinate smaller children against Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that vaccines proven safe in clinical trials on children and adolescents and have Emergency Use Listing (EUL) should be offered to comorbid and severe immunocompromised children of younger age.
The apex global public health agency said that these coronavirus vaccines are effective in preventing the disease in children and adolescents. SARS-CoV-2 virus which caused Covid-19 typically has been found to cause less severe illness and fewer deaths in children and adolescents compared to adults.
“Nonetheless, children and adolescents remain susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and may transmit the virus to others, with the risk of both infection and transmission increasing with age,” WHO said in its interim statement on COVID-19 vaccination for children issued last week, adding that reported COVID-19 cases among children spiked dramatically in 2022 during the Omicron variant surge at a time when most countries relaxed public health and social measures.
The WHO also cautioned that children under the age of five years have a higher risk of other diseases with clinical presentations that overlap with COVID-19, such as pneumonia and other viral upper respiratory tract infections, which may lead to misclassification.
“There are currently no vaccine supply constraints. Although the majority of COVID-19 vaccines are only approved for use in adults aged 18 years and above, an increasing number of vaccines are now also being authorized for use in children,” WHO said.
mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech BNT162b2 and Moderna mRNA-1273 have got emergency use authorisation for use in the age groups of 6 months and above in some countries.
Covaxin, an adjuvanted inactivated vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech in India, has been approved for the age indication of 12-17 years; but has not yet received WHO EUL for this age group. The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) in India approved the use of COVID-19 vaccines Corbevax and Covaxin for children aged between five and 12 years, however no decision has been taken so far to include these for the younger age group in the national COVID-19 program.
The WHO explained benefits of vaccinating children and adolescents that go beyond the direct health benefits. “Minimizing disruptions to education for children and maintenance of their overall well-being, health and safety are important considerations. Vaccination that decreases SARS-CoV-2 transmission in this age group may reduce transmission from children and adolescents to older adults, and may help reduce the need for mitigation measures in schools,” it said.
“Countries should consider the individual and population benefits of immunizing children and adolescents in their specific epidemiological and social context when developing their COVID-19 immunization policies and programs,” the WHO said.
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